dolores: What is "Cyberfeminism"?
Plant: I'll begin at what might be the beginning. It's important to say that there is no "-ism" called Cyberfeminism. It's interesting in itself that there is that pressure for any new idea to become a new "-ism". The term "cyberfeminist" was used by myself and also a group of australian women - and quite possibly many other people I don't know - but more or less at the same time in the early 1990ies. I came across it in the australian womens' work - they are a group of visual artists called "VNS matrix". We got in touch and realised that we've both been thinking in similar lines even though it was on completely different sides of the world. That in itself interests me because that's rather like the internet itself: it developed without really having a place of origin or starting point and without necessarily having somebodys name attached to any particular piece of work. It's a much more anonymous type of media. So it's very appropriate that the term "Cyberfeminism" came up. It doesn't have an author or a point of origin but it was a much more evolutionary idea, that grew up by itself.
dolores: Does it then interest You to publish anonymously?
Plant: Yes, because what's most important is, that certain things get said or get done. For example if you look at music, which I think is an advanced area of cultural production, a lot of music is produced as white label without having a name on it. That doesn't do anything to stop it from circulating. That may cause all sorts of problems from the commercial point of view: who gets the money and who gets the credit. Nevertheless the most important thing is not who is circulating but what is circulating.
dolores: But isn't it - especially for women - important to show their voice, to be identified with a thesis?
Plant: Yes, that is an issue that can't be ignored. I don't publish much of my work anonymously. However, it's an interesting issue at the moment and in the near future as well, because we are living at a time when it will no longer be necessary to have to claim that voice and claim that status. Rather it's women having to catch up with men in terms of promoting their own names and their own voices. The very idea of individual ownership of a name and a voice is in itself being in collapse, for men as well. Ironically, women will perhaps find that their ways of publishing, which often have been anonymous or under male names or different names, maybe will begin to become important in themselves. Perhaps for women it will become a very useful skill to be able to produce work without feeling the need for your name to be on it. Everybody will find themselves having to do that.
dolores: You once stated, that identity, the self, hierarchies or dichotomies will dissolve. How do You see the impact of deconstruction in that?
Plant: Deconstruction has always been a very academic theory, partly because it came out of the literary world. So it has grown up to be in the academy. It's a shame that it has never had any so significant impact. It has had an impact in a wider context, but it was invented in the academy. Whereas there are other, more politically engaged or more materialist postmodern approaches. Deleuze/Guattari and Foucault, who have been much more involved in the world outside the academy. Their ideas about the collapse of identity are much more interesting than the deconstructionist ones. Because the deconstructionist ones tend to be very much a collapse of identity in theory, it's like in a philosophical question. What I'm interested in, is how people do experience that. For example the way in which you want to be many different people at once. In the not too distant past you wouldn't have to do that. That's something which women have always had to do - women more than men - have always had to play many different roles and be many different people, dependant on who they were talking to: to be a wife and a mother, have a job, etc.. For men it has been much easier to just be one thing: to be a man. That was very much to men's advantage in the past. But increasingly it's to women's advantage to have that flexibility, because everybody will find themselves needing that flexibility.
dolores: You claimed that women and technology were similar because both had been used as means to ends or as commodity, but over the time they gained more autonomy. What changed in the relationship between electronic media or networks and women since then?
Plant: It's a lot easier to see these things retrospectively. We will look back in the near future. We will see that there were things happening now that we can't see. There is a surprising number of women who - it's not only that they use the net or that they produce visual art - recognize that this is a very new medium which offers very different kinds of communication: kinds of communication which women have a lot of practiced, like their own informal networks for example. It's all a part of the same shift, that informal networks used to be what you had to do if you couldn't do it properly. But increasingly, especially with the net, they will become the normal way to do something. The older forms of communication will become less important. It's an ongoing relationship between women and technology.
dolores: Can women use the net subversively?
Plant: Yes, but my big worry about the internet is, that it will become a big corporate market place before anybody even noticed that it was there and began to think about what you could do on it. At the moment - like a lot of electronic media - it's still being used to translate from old formats into new formats without changing the nature of the content. For example you have something on paper that you want to put on the net. But it needs for people to start thinking about how you can produce work or put information onto the net (or any of the new media) that is taylor-made just for the net and is special to it, that pays attention to how it works. That may not sound particularly subversive, but it is, because that would encourage the much more anarchic side of the internet, the side which is much more about it working in ways which haven't been available in the older culture. For example decentralised, horizontal communication. That in itself is potentially subversive, because things are still very centralised, vertical and hierarchical. Anything which can be done that encourages that side of how the net actually works is great. Women can and will do and are doing that.
dolores: But how do You see the relationship between women who have access to the net and women who don't?
Plant: The access question will be solved very quickly. All of the corporations who are involved desperately want to get everybody onto the net. At the moment you still have to go and try to get onto the net. But that will turn around. The problem soon probably will be how you avoid it, rather than how you get it. Computing generally is one of the few commodities that has dropped in price ever since that is has begun. They get cheaper and cheaper. The access issue now is not so much about money, because with about 300 pounds you can get a computer and get onto the internet. When you compare that to a car or a washing machine or a TV, that is a relatively small amount of money. It's about people and women in particular still having a fear of technology, which a lot of men - and some feminists actually - still want to encourage ("it's not for you, it's a male thing"). That has more to do with the access issue now than the the fact money, because they are not that expensive. If you think of a car or living in a car culture: clearly not everybody owns a car, but nevertheless everybody somehow ends up with access to motorised transport. That's the direction things are going: that not everybody may end up owning a computer - although probably I think they will. But even if they didn't, it would still have a much bigger cultural impact than just the question who owns it. What's really interesting is how you can make the connections between what happens on the net and what happens in other contexts. It's not just a question of putting all of the energy into the net but how you can learn for example from the way in which information travels in the net and then translate that back into other sorts of social activity. It's a broader question about technology not just in a sense of particular machines but ways of doing things, in any context.
dolores: You underlined that it becomes increasingly advantageous to be female. What is feminine?
Plant: All that we know is, what it is to be male. What's so exiting about the other side of that, is the fact that it is to be discovered. What is advantageous now, is to be more open-ended, less already fixed. The danger with masculinity is that it's already so certain. Whereas the female - whatever that is - has to be something to be explored and experimented with. That's precisely what's good about it.
dolores: Do You think that femininity is socially constructed or essential?
Plant: It's not just socially constructed. Especially now - not least because of the computer-revolution - all of the new studies of for example microbiology, show that you can look at the way in which male and female bodies work and chromosomes and genes. There is a fascinating world of gender differences at that material biological level. In the past that would have been very difficult to say, because bodies used to be thought of as much more big scale thing (can you have a baby or not) rather than this much smaller level of activity. But there is a continuum between the social and the biological.
I've always tried to find a third way that is neither socially constructed nor biologically essentialist. Neither works. There is a way of thinking through the middle of those two. If it was simply socially constructed then you could just chose to be. It's not that simple. I wish it was that simple. There is a gay bar in Birmingham which has a big neon-sign on it that says: "You can be whoever you want to be". I think: if only that would be. That's my problem with Judith Butler's work: you can't just go out and perform anything, if only you could.
an interview by Antonia Ulrich